Last night my wife and I watched a very interesting documentary called Second Skin, which was all about the addictive world of online gaming, MMORPGs in particular. It followed the lives of a handful of different gamers over the course of a few years, and I have to admit it was fascinating to watch. Unfortunately, it was also sad. I don’t play online games…I never have, and I never will. I’ve known a few obsessive online gamers over the years, and honestly, sometimes it is hard not to laugh at them…but I digress.
As per the title of the post, I’ve given this plenty of thought over the years, and watching Second Skin was the final piece of the puzzle. I was quite shocked, as I watched, to see an incredible number of correlations between gangs and drugs, and the gamers and games they play (such as EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft, even Second Life). Don’t believe me? Read on 🙂
Let’s start with gangs. A gang is a group of individuals who, for many different reasons, come together in what they consider to be a family. The often engage in activities that are not considered socially acceptable, and are quite often violent. They are often involved with drugs and other addictive things. Much of what they do is illegal.
With MMORPG players, you have what are known as guilds, groups of players who band together. Statistically speaking, nearly half of all gamers value their online friends the most, much as in a gang. One of the best known guilds, The Syndicate, has many hundreds of members in a variety of areas, and it actually has an application process (like gangs have initiations?). Now granted, what gangs do and what guilds do is fundamentally different in that guilds are online and essentially fake, while gangs are offline and quite real. However, the actions each of these groups take are incredibly similar psychologically.
To many gamers, their online world is their real world. Many spend more time online than off, and actually refer to themselves as “residents of the virtual world”. They say and do things online that would never, ever be acceptable offline. Unlike a gang, these online actions usually don’t really physically harm innocent people in real life…but here is the thing…
If, psychologically speaking, someone’s online world is their real world, then killing people and committing atrocities in that world will likely create the same neural pathways and behavior patterns that would be created if the average person did those things in real life. That is not a good thing. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against violent video games, just against people who can’t differentiate between real and fantasy.)
This fundamental re-wiring of the brain that occurs from this reality disconnect can take years to correct, if it can be corrected at all. It results in obsessive, addicted players withdrawing more and more from the real world, until truly sad things happen. For a very sad example, look up the story of Liz Woolley, the creator of Online Gamers Anonymous, and the story of the death of her son, Shawn.
Roughly 1% of the world population plays online games (50+ Million global players), with half of all gamers saying they are obsessed/addicted. MMORPGs are literally the drug of choice of many guilds and players. Gaming often negatively impacts their work, school, personal lives, and can even impact their physical appearance.
Believe it or not, there are actually halfway houses for recovering game addicts. There are MMORPG gamers who routinely skip work and neglect their families to be able to secure and play the latest games. Calling in sick to work for days for a game release is considered an acceptable practice for many online gamers. How sad is that?
Heck, there is even a term known as a Gamer Widow or Gaming Widow, that means a woman whose relationship has ended because of her partner’s online gaming addiction. When someone treats their online world as more important than the real world, there is a serious reality disconnect, and a very real psychological problem.
Then we have the economic issue. Just as gang members often steal from people, these addicted gamers actually steal from the economy. How so? The loss of massive productivity hours and money into a virtual world (Think that doesn’t impact you? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people playing WoW during work hours…it could be costing you more than you think 🙂 ).
Lets say the average online gamer plays for 6 hours a day (some studies say it can be more than twice that number), and we know there are over 50 million gamers. If we assign just the minimum wage value of $7.25/hr to that, that is $794 billion dollars per year in lost time alone (Stimulus or Health Care anybody?).
Now add to that the ongoing costs of gaming such as electricity, computers, monthly subscriptions, new games, real money spent on virtual goods, etc, and you are looking at total of over a trillion dollars per year lost to gaming. Sure, some of that goes back into the economy, but much of it disappears forever into the ether. And this trend is growing at an alarming rate.
Heck, did you know that there is a currency exchange for real money to virtual money? That’s right, real cash disappearing into virtual worlds. Check it out: MyMMOShop. That is just one example of an entire industry. China has over 100,000 “gold farmers”, people who are employed to play MMORPGs all day to get gold and items to sell to other gamers (which violates the rules of almost all the MMORPGs). It is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Now granted, it surely says something about our world that so many people find a virtual world to be preferable to the real one, and that is something that needs to change, but it saddens me to see so many people lost in a world that isn’t real, missing out on things that really matter. Truly, the life of an addicted online gamer is a wasted life indeed.
I don’t support online gaming, and neither I, nor my wife, nor our children when we have them will ever be participating in this Millennial addiction. As I said, gangs and drugs for Gen Y. Guilds are the new gangs, and MMORPGs are the new drug of choice. JUST SAY NO!
If this subject interests you, I would highly recommend watching the documentary Second Skin. And, for your viewing humor, this is the full episode of South Park that made fun of WoW players 🙂 Make Love, Not Warcraft